In the early hours of 18th March 2016, Mohammad Majloom Ansari (35) and Inayahtullah Khan (12) were found hanging from a tree in the Balumath forest area in Latehar, Jharkhand. Residents of Balugoan and Nawada villages, Ansari and young Khan were on their way to the weekly cattle fair with their eight buffaloes when they were stopped, thrashed, strangled and hanged by a lynch mob. So far the police has arrested 5 men and is on the lookout for three others. It has also clamped S.144 IPC in Balumath in a bid to quell communal tensions.
Surprisingly, till now, the police has been reluctant to question the Latehar Gau Raksha Samiti even though one of the accused, Mithilesh Prasad Sahu, is a known member of the organization. Instead, the version given to the media states “cattle loot”, “cash” and “personal enmity” as probable motives for the lynching. A local leader of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (P) has questioned the official claim as he pointed out that the two victims were not rich traders and did not have much money on them as they were on their way to the fair on foot. Besides, if cattle loot was the motive, then, the police needs to explain why four of the eight buffaloes were found in the forest and only two were recovered from the accused. The SP Latehar, Anoop Birtharay, has conveniently stated that neither the family nor the complainant have blamed any organization. Needless to say, the FIR does not specify any reason for the lynching.
Why is the police soft-pedalling the issue of the involvement of the Gau Raksha Samitis in the barbaric killings? Protesting villagers, mostly cattle traders, who blocked the Latehar-Chatra highway and also pelted the police, are not new to such acts of lynching. On 8th September 2015, a cattle trader of nearby Gomia village, narrowly escaped being killed after he was thrashed by right wing goons, the Latehar MLA, Prakash Ram told PUDR. Mr Ram also said that the police refused to lodge a complaint and, instead, detained the victim. In February 2016, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, had announced in Jamshedpur that it would launch an agitation against the state government for ‘failing to protect’ the interests of the Hindu community and for failing to prevent ‘cow-slaughter’ incidents (www.jharkhandstatenews.com, 14.2.2016). Hence, the roots of the present hanging are not difficult to find. The lynch mob is around and known to the police.
The recent attacks and killings of Muslim cattle traders or those who are involved in the leather trade have been accompanied with certain organized actions which point to collusion between the mobs and the administration. One, such mobs use extreme cruelty while attacking victims. Whether it was Zahid Ahmed Bhat who was burnt alive in his truck in Udhampur in October 2015 or the manner in which the two deceased in Latehar were strangled and hanged, the mob actions are extremely violent and barbaric. Two, the time lag between a rumour and the crime is alarmingly short as the gatherings of mobs and lynchings happen almost simultaneously. Such mobs are forever ready to attack and no effort is made to prevent such gatherings. For instance, in Mainpuri, Agra, in October 2015, two men, Rafeeq and Habib were severely thrashed by a lynch mob merely on the suspicion that they were slaughtering a cow even when it was known that the animal had died of natural causes. Three, the nature of police investigations following the discovery of the crime remain suspiciously loaded in favour of the accused as the police is unwilling to probe how organized mobs are being created out of local Gau Raksha committees which enjoy political patronage.
Each of the above suggests that the Hindutva lynch mobs act with the knowledge of the local administration. The question is how will the rule of law function if its custodians subvert it willingly and act in complicity with the lynch mob? It is necessary to ask why such acts of vindictive killings are being repeated and why the state is so ‘tolerant’ about the violent actions of right wing mobs. While it is obvious that these self-styled cow protection groups must be prevented from converting the rule of law into self-serving instruments of communal power, why is the administration looking the other way?
Deepika Tandon and Moushumi Basu